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Posts Tagged ‘Madeleine L’Engle’

memorial church interior harvard yard

It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.

—Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine is one of my spiritual heroes; I love everything she writes, from memoir to semi-science-fiction to thoughts on faith and art. This poem was recommended by Kari.

A blessed Lent to you.

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For a lifelong reader, I came late to the work of Madeleine L’Engle.

madeleine l'engle books shelf collection

I didn’t have a taste for fantasy as a child, so I never read A Wrinkle in Time or any of its sequels. For years, I didn’t know that Madeleine had written other books, that in fact her oeuvre ranged from adult fiction to memoir to poetry. But when my friend Teresa sold off a few of her books at the end of one semester in college, I picked up an old paperback copy of Walking on Water, Madeleine’s book of reflections on faith and art. And for nearly two years after that, I could be found with one of her books – The Small Rain, A Circle of Quiet, the entire Time Quintet – in my hand.

I love all Madeleine’s work in different ways, but A Circle of Quiet gave me a phrase that continues to resonate, striking a deep gong in my soul.

She recounts:

A winter ago I had an after-school seminar for high-school students and in one of the early sessions Una, a brilliant fifteen-year-old, a born writer who came to Harlem from Panama five years ago, and only then discovered the conflict between races, asked me, “Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?”

“Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.”

But I base my life on this belief.

That quiet anecdote, slipped in between Madeleine’s musings on ontology (the why of being) and a digression on the punctuation of A Wrinkle in Time, has changed the way I view faith, and the way I view life.

I’m at Micha Boyett’s blog today, participating in her One Good Phrase series. Click over there to read about how Madeleine’s phrase continues to resonate for me.

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Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard S. Marcus
I wrote my master’s thesis on Madeleine’s memoirs, with nods to A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. So I found this collection of 50 interviews, with Madeleine’s family, colleagues, students and friends, fascinating. Some people praise her to the skies, while others seem determined to prove she had feet of clay. While Madeleine was wise and brilliant, she was no saint: she could be stubborn and demanding. Recommended for fellow L’Engle fans.

Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
Mildred Lathbury, thirtyish English spinster, meets her new neighbors (a rather eccentric, glamorous couple) and gets drawn into their marital troubles. Meanwhile, she provides comfort, a listening ear and cups of tea to various friends (all of whom assume she has “nothing better to do” since she’s single). Some amusing moments, but overall I found the story rather dull. Set in the same era as Miss Read’s tales, but not nearly as much fun.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Mitali Perkins
When Sunita’s grandparents come to visit from India, she struggles to reconcile her family’s traditional roots with her modern, California teenage life. (Mitali is herself an Indian transplant to the U.S.) I loved Sunita’s wise grandfather, Dadu, and her straight-talking best friend Liz, though Sunita came off a bit bratty sometimes. A sweet, thoughtful exploration of feeling caught between two cultures.

Renegade Magic, Stephanie Burgis
Kat Stephenson, 12-year-old Regency-era magical Guardian, returns. After Kat’s enemy Lady Fotherington nearly ruins her oldest sister’s wedding, Kat’s stepmother packs the family off to Bath, hoping to find a fiance for Kat’s other sister before any scandal can leak out. But Kat senses “wild magic” in the air around the Baths, and both her new friend Lucy and her foolish brother Charles get caught up in a dangerous game. I like Kat’s spunk, though her magic is not very well explained. Still an enjoyable story. (Second in a trilogy.)

The House on Willow Street, Cathy Kelly
In the tiny Irish town of Avalon, four women – sisters Tess and Suki, postmistress Danae, and Danae’s niece Mara – help one another navigate personal crossroads. Tess’ marriage and antique shop are both struggling; Suki is fleeing a dirt-digging biographer; Mara is healing from a broken heart and Danae wonders if it’s time to tell the secret she’s kept for 18 years. A heartwarming story with charming small-town characters – cozy and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 8).

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, Simon Garfield
I love maps, and I found Garfield’s book utterly fascinating. He covers ancient maps (as much theology as geography), the age of exploration, the American Civil War, polar voyages, traveling by map in the movies (from Casablanca to The Muppets), GPS, guidebooks, even mapping the brain. Crammed with interesting facts, but written in a witty, compelling style. Garfield also muses on how maps reflect our perceptions of ourselves, and our quest to find our place in the world.

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s work, and enjoyed this slim collection of quiet, luminous poems. It contains “The Summer Day,” which I already adored, but I found some new gems, including the end of “The Ponds”: “Still, what I want in my life / is to be willing / to be dazzled.” Lovely and honest scenes from nature, and musings on our “place in the family of things.”

The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister
A gorgeous sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients (which I adored), about chef Lillian and the people whose lives intertwine at her restaurant. Sous chef Chloe and dishwasher Finnegan are both healing from heartbreak of different kinds; Isabelle is struggling against memory loss; accountant Al takes refuge in numbers as his marriage falls apart; and Lillian herself faces a new, unexpected challenge. Luminous writing, and characters I wanted to meet. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 24).

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
I’d never read this classic, and finished it in a day. An odd, dark, yet hopeful story of censorship, war and preserving the written word against all odds. I didn’t connect deeply with any of the characters, but the message is powerful (and oddly prescient, considering it was written in the 1950s). Not a favorite, but I’m glad I read it.

What are you reading lately?

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porter square books bookstore interior

The bulging shelves at Porter Square Books

Over the Gate, Miss Read
Villages like Fairacre have their own rich lore, and Miss Read tells a dozen tales here, most of them told to her by other villagers. (Who knew Fairacre had its own ghost?) Lighthearted, often funny, sometimes mysterious, these stories provide another way to spend a few hours in Fairacre. (I am now collecting these books for my own shelf, keeping an eye out for them every time I visit a used bookstore.)

The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons
Elise Landau, daughter of bourgeois Viennese Jews, comes to England in 1938 as a housemaid at Tyneford, an isolated great house on the Dorset coast. She expects to hate England – and at first she does, missing her family and her cosseted Vienna life. Slowly, though, she makes friends and comes to love the wild, windswept landscape, even as war encroaches. Solomons’ writing is wonderfully atmospheric; her characters are sometimes stereotypical, but the best ones (like Elise) break the molds of their social classes. And there’s a dazzling love story at the heart of it all. Fabulous. (Recommended by Jaclyn, who loved it too.)

The Joys of Love, Madeleine L’Engle
I stumbled upon this at the Brattle – I had no idea it existed, let alone that it was only published a few years ago. (I loved the introduction by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Lena Roy, also a writer.) Both the plot (life in a summer stock theatre in the 1940s) and the protagonist – tall, gawky, naive, erudite Elizabeth – mirror L’Engle’s own experience. The supporting characters (especially kindhearted Jane and sweet Ben) are a lot of fun, and there are some bittersweet moments of wisdom and truth and lots of quoting from Shakespeare and Chekhov. Typical L’Engle, in other words – probably best appreciated by those of us who love her already.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor
I liked Taylor’s first memoir (see yesterday’s post), but I loved this one. She writes about various “practices” – physical labor, Sabbath, prayer, simply looking another person in the eye – that can help ground us in the world we live in, and thereby give us a glimpse of the eternal in daily life. I might be writing a whole separate post about this book. So many gorgeous sentences, nuggets of wisdom, honest admissions, practical advice. I got this from the library, but I’ll be buying a copy. Love.

An Unmarked Grave, Charles Todd
Bess Crawford is at it again: taking on a mystery she didn’t ask for, but that just won’t let her rest. Her investigation is complicated by the Spanish flu, lots of travel back and forth between England and France, a Yankee soldier who keeps turning up like a bad penny (at least he’s endearing), and a vicious killer who’s on her tail. I like Bess and her family more and more, though this plot contained some pretty wild coincidences. To review for the Shelf (out June 5).

Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and loved the story of Mo LoBeau, who washed up – literally – in Tupelo Landing, NC, as a baby. There’s a hilarious cast of small-town characters, a mystery that goes deeper than you’d think, and some truly wonderful writing. I kept cracking up and reading bits aloud to my husband. Mo is a sassy, smart, sharp-eyed narrator and she takes readers for such a fun ride. (Out May 10.)

Village Christmas, Miss Read
Two spinster sisters in Fairacre peer anxiously at the new family across the road, not sure whether to accept them, until the mother goes into labor on Christmas Day. A sweet tale of Christmas joy in a village I love. (Link is to a 3-in-1 edition of Miss Read’s Christmas tales that includes this story.)

You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon
Siobhan, a military wife, writes with sensitivity and grace about army wives at Fort Hood, in central Texas, waiting for their husbands to return from deployment. So much heartbreak in these pages, but also so much courage. I do wish the stories had delved deeper, continued past their end points so I could know what happened after – there are always so many questions hanging around the lives of military families.

(Bonus: I heard Siobhan read at Porter Square Books this week, and she was so lovely and gracious and well-spoken. And – she admitted when she found out I was a Texan – my home state captivated her in a way she totally didn’t expect.)

Run With Me, Jennifer Luitwieler
Jen is a Twitter friend of mine, and she sent me the e-version of her book for review. It’s about running, but it’s also about faith, family, a mischievous dog, and coming to grips with the baggage you’ve dragged around for years. Jen is hilarious and so real, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her story. (And have added her to the long list of online friends I’d love to meet in real life.)

Whew! April was a busy reading month, and I have several stacks awaiting my attention in May. What are you reading now?

(NB: This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.)

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april reads books part 2Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor
Taylor tells her story of coming to faith, deciding to go to seminary, becoming ordained as an Episcopal priest, and, eventually, leaving full-time ministry. She writes with honesty and grace about the difficulty of giving up something you’ve worked hard to attain, and wondering if leaving church means leaving God (it doesn’t always). Her attention to small moments, and her descriptions of the countryside in Georgia, are lovely.

The House in Norham Gardens, Penelope Lively
When I saw the title I thought, “Not Norham Gardens Road – in North Oxford – three blocks from where I used to live?” This odd, charming story about 14-year-old Clare and her elderly aunts is indeed set in my old neighborhood, in a house that backs up to my beloved University Parks. Clare is an appealing character, thoughtful and sensitive, and she cycles and walks around so many streets and places I’ve been. There are some strange dream sequences involving New Guinea, but mostly I loved watching Clare live in my Oxford.

And Both Were Young, Madeleine L’Engle
I found a sweet (if battered and slightly foxed) edition of this book on our trip to Vermont a few weeks ago, and enjoyed the story of Philippa “Flip” Hunter, gradually coming out of her shell at a Swiss boarding school. L’Engle specializes in these gawky, sensitive, intelligent protagonists who discover their deep inner reserves of strength with the help of true friends. from Meg Murry to Vicky Austin to L’Engle herself. And I love them.

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard
I admire Dillard’s work, and I appreciate her no-nonsense, often ironic approach to the craft of writing. But this book, like her others, is sometimes opaque to me. There are some gems, but between them she wanders into long, irrelevant anecdotes (particularly toward the end). Not my favorite book on writing, but worthwhile.

A Bitter Truth, Charles Todd
This third Bess Crawford mystery captivated my attention as utterly as the first two. Bess is again drawn into a web of family secrets and a murder case she wasn’t looking for. But she navigates the situation with her usual combination of nursing skill, intelligence and blunt honesty, with a dose of daring (e.g. driving to Dover in the middle of the night). I like Bess, though I wonder when she’ll come to appreciate that best friend who’s always getting her out of scrapes.

Miss Clare Remembers, Miss Read
This is the life story of Miss Read’s dear friend, Miss Clare (link is to a two-in-one edition that includes this book). She sees so much change during her long life – two world wars, which help bring about many changes in the education system and the landscape of her small village world. She also suffers great loss, but she faces everything with calm and cheer. I love Miss Clare and so enjoyed learning all about her life.

Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
This is the first in a YA fantasy trilogy, set in London. Gwyneth comes from a time-traveling family but doesn’t believe she has inherited the gene. No one else does either, till she starts inadvertently leaping back and forth in time. She learns a lot about a secret circle of alchemists and time-travelers, codes and symbols, and a handsome, time-traveling boy – but clearly the story has just begun. These novels are written in German, so I have to wait a while for the second one to be published in English! Good fun.

The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R., Carole DeSanti
A whirlwind, lushly detailed story of Napoleon’s Paris – decadence and poverty living side by side. DeSanti’s prose is rich (occasionally purple) and her cast of characters quite colorful (many of them are artists, prostitutes or revolutionaries). The historical details and atmosphere are fascinating, but the plot stumbled toward the end, and the conclusion felt a bit unsatisfying. Still, a vivid portrait of a Paris we don’t often see.

Part 3 to come tomorrow – I’ve been reading even more than usual lately (and many of the books are short). What are you reading these days?

(This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. Graphic by the lovely Sarah.)

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Question: did anyone else ever get those slips of paper in elementary school that said, “You’ve Been Caught Reading!”? If they handed those out to adults, I’d get at least one a day.

Anyway. On to the first batch of books for a new year:

The Time in Between, Maria Duenas
I loved this big, sweeping novel set in Spain and Morocco in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Sira, a dressmaker, jaunts off to Tangiers with her dashing lover, who abandons her. She has to pick up the pieces of her life and literally stitch them back together – in a bold, unexpected pattern. Duenas writes gorgeously about high fashion, exotic locales and espionage, with a wonderful cast of characters. Sira’s voice is enchanting, and while her story carries echoes of Casablanca, it is utterly her own.

Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood
I checked out this first book in the Phryne Fisher series from our library after Marianne mentioned her on Twitter. What a fun mystery-cum-romp through 1920s Australia. Our sleuth/heroine is dazzling, funny, generous and bold. A lighthearted story, with an interesting mystery. Fortunately the series spans 18 books so far – so I can keep reading!

The Orchid House, Lucinda Riley
A sweeping family saga, a tale of an English great house, several intertwined love stories and a fascinating glimpse into Bangkok in the 1940s – what’s not to love? I was intrigued and then absorbed by this tale of love, deception, war and secrets, centering around an estate in northern England. Lush descriptions, believable characters, and ultimate redemption. To review for Shelf Awareness.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith
Rachel told me about this book (the author is her book’s editor), and I read it in just a few hours. Two teenagers meet at JFK and end up sitting together on their overnight flight to London. They’re both on their way to momentous family events, both feeling raw and shaky – so they spend the night talking. And the story doesn’t end once they land. It’s a sweet (but not saccharine) love story, and the characters are refreshingly real. I immediately put Smith’s two other YA novels on my list.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
I love Calico Captive by the same author, but had never read this classic – prompting Sarah (who is blogging about it) to exclaim, “Get on it, woman!” So I did. And I fell in love with Kit Tyler, brought up in Barbados and struggling to fit into Puritan life in Connecticut, and her cast of unlikely friends – all, in some way, misfits like herself. Since moving to New England, I am fascinated by historical fiction set in this area, and this story is a winner. Read it, if you haven’t!

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, Caroline Preston
I heard the author give a talk in November, and enjoyed this elegant book-cum-work-of-art, filled with vintage ephemera from the 1920s. Frankie (don’t call her Frances!) is spunky, sweet and a tad rebellious – she longs to see the Great World, like Betsy Ray, and ends up living in both New York and Paris before coming back home to New Hampshire. A fun story in an absolutely gorgeous medium – take a look inside to see for yourself.

Winter: Five Windows on the Season, Adam Gopnik
I love Gopnik’s work, but didn’t know about this collection till Zoe of Brookline Booksmith blogged about it. Gopnik examines the five “R”s of winter: romantic, radical, recuperative, recreational and remembering. His topics range from Romantic poetry to Arctic explorers, from Thomas Nast to ice hockey to underground cities – and all the while he is typically thoughtful and lyrical. I posted a few quotes from the first chapter last week, and I’m hoping these words will help me through my second Northeast winter.

Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood
I enjoyed Phryne Fisher’s second adventure – which involves kidnapping, murder, flying lessons, clever tricks to catch the bad guys, and of course, dazzling clothes. Fun to see some of the characters from the first book (like Dot, the faithful maid) again, and to meet a few new ones.

The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz
As Jaclyn warned, this book made me hungry – for crackly baguettes, warm goat cheese, rich chocolates and other delicious things on offer in Paris. Lebovitz writes with warmth and wry humor about the city he loves, the quirks of Parisians (both humorous and annoying), and the foods he’s discovered while living there. Delectable (though it will make you want to hop a plane to Paris immediately).

The Arm of the Starfish, Madeleine L’Engle
I’d met most of these characters – Adam Eddington, the O’Keefe family, Canon Tallis – before, but this adventure set off the coast of Portugal was new to me. The plot deals with experiments on starfish (which can regenerate their own arms if injured), and how this ability could possibly apply to humans. The plot focused mostly on keeping the information away from the wrong people – I would have liked more exploration of the research itself. Not L’Engle’s best, but still compelling.

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I promised myself a reread of this series this winter, and this first book was as cozy and fun as I remembered. Corncob dolls, a dance at Grandpa’s house, making maple sugar, churning butter – this is pioneer life at its most delicious. (I did catch a few references to the Civil War that I’d never noticed before.) And oh, how I love Pa and his wise, twinkling blue eyes, and his fiddle singing Laura to sleep.

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I’ve been an avid reader – and rereader – almost since I learned how to read. (Just ask my parents, who swear they read Ned’s Numbers to me a million times when I was a toddler.) I’ve read – and reread – hundreds of books since then, but a few of them have truly, powerfully changed the way I see the world. This list is not exhaustive, but contains a handful of the gems that marked some important shifts for me. (Inspired by Roxanne’s Books Well-Loved series.)

1. Little Women, first read when I was seven – the first story that completely, wholly absorbed me and made me want to read it again and again. (Which I did.)
2. Walking on Water, my “back-door” introduction to Madeleine L’Engle (now one of my favorite authors) and her oeuvre of beautifully written, thoughtful, moving books. (And, eventually, a topic for my master’s thesis.)
3. Watch for the Light, a book of Advent reflections that has shaped my relationship to liturgy, and indeed my faith.
4. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which constantly pushes me to be more honest in my writing.
5. The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron: given to me as a college graduation gift by J, it has powerfully shaped my creative life.
6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which revolutionized the way I think about food and seasonal eating.
7. The Cool Girl’s Guide to Knitting by Nicki Trench, which helped reinforce a lot of the basics for me.
8. A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, which introduced me to the concept of postmodern Christianity.
9. The reading list for my World Lit class, my senior year of college – most notably Saramago’s Blindness and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Horrifying, heartbreaking, powerful stories with pitch-perfect writing, and so many different ways of seeing the world.

What books have changed your life?

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Because endings, too, can be so good.

1. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both. (Charlotte’s Web)
2. We talked of what was to come. And of the lost art of keeping secrets. (The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets)
3. “‘God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world,’” whispered Anne softly. (Anne of Green Gables)
4. And now we’ll all go swimming. (No Children, No Pets)
5. Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you. (I Capture the Castle)
6. “Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.” Yes. And always will be. (Two-Part Invention)
7. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy. (A Moveable Feast)
8. “Well, I’m back,” he said. (The Return of the King)
9. She could feel the Big Hill looking down as the Crowd danced at Tib’s wedding in the chocolate-colored house. (Betsy’s Wedding)
10. The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

What are your favorite last lines?

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Because beginnings can be so, so good. These are the ones I remember best.

1. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. (I Capture the Castle)
2. I met Charlotte in London one afternoon while waiting for a bus. Just look at that sentence! (The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets)
3. In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines / lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. (Madeline)
4. My life – my real life – started when a man walked into it, a handsome man in a well-cut suit, and yes, I know how that sounds. (Love Walked In)
5. It was a dark and stormy night. (A Wrinkle in Time)
6. Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs. (Little House in the Big Woods)
7. We are each the love of someone’s life. (The Confessions of Max Tivoli)

I often have trouble remembering first lines of books – it’s the odd, random phrases or scenes from the middle that stick in my mind. But I do love these.

What are your favorite first lines?

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Troubling a Star, Madeleine L’Engle
I’d been saving this last book in the Austin series – and it was the perfect read for a warm, lazy Saturday. I curled up on the couch and read all about Vicky Austin’s trip to Antarctica. Not my favorite of the Austin books, but a good ending to the series, and a fun adventure for a character of whom I’ve grown fond.

Horoscopes for the Dead, Billy Collins
I took my time with Collins’ new collection, dipping into it before bed for several weeks. His sly, witty, thoughtful gift with words is still present; there are some gems here. I love him because he makes my husband laugh – and makes me laugh – and then makes me pause and reflect on life’s quiet beauty, found in the little everyday moments.

The Moffat Museum, Eleanor Estes
This last Moffat book was a treat – who else would think of making a museum out of the old barn in their backyard, complete with stardust, a rusted brown bike and Rufus the Waxworks Boy? Jane and Rufus are in fine form, loving childhood as much as they ever did – but Sylvie and Joey are growing up, which gives the book a tinge of poignancy. Sylvie’s wedding is lovely, but it was Joey getting his working papers and leaving school that choked me up. And the ending is just perfect.

Loose Diamonds…and other things I’ve lost and found along the way, Amy Ephron
A lighthearted, frothy, sometimes random collection of essays about life in L.A., motherhood, marriage, and occasionally jewelry. Ephron often hides behind her cynicism, but I prefer her writing when it’s honest and a bit nostalgic. To review for the Shelf.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, Jennifer Reese
A cookbook-cum-memoir, born out of a desire to see whether making stuff from scratch is really worth it. Reese’s conclusions are always honest (each recipe carries a “Hassle” rating) and often hilarious. And some of these recipes (like the apricot-ginger bread!) look delicious. (Though I probably won’t be curing my own meat, or keeping chickens, any time soon.) To review for the Shelf.

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
I picked this up at the Booksmith one night and spent the rest of the evening reading it. Such a fascinating story, with echoes of A Wrinkle in Time (the protagonist’s favorite book) and several interesting twists. The reader is just as puzzled as the characters for a while – and then, suddenly, beautifully, all the strange clues start to make sense.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, John Baxter
Baxter is a bookworm and an expat (he’s an Aussie) living in Paris, and his musings on the City of Light are erudite, thoughtful and often charming. He does relish shocking people with tales of the seedy side of Paris, but there’s plenty of variety here. (Of course, it makes me want to go back to Paris. Le sigh.)

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, Ree Drummond
I love the Pioneer Woman’s blog and Twitter account – she’s hilarious – and I own her cookbook. (Yum.) So I loved her lighthearted, funny, romantic tale of falling in love with her husband, “Marlboro Man.” She pokes sly fun at herself and shares lots of embarrassing moments – no wonder she claims to “channel Lucille Ball” sometimes. But what I love most of all is her quiet commitment to love, honor and cherish her man forever. I’m working on that same commitment with my love.

31 Dates in 31 Days, Tamara Duricka Johnson
A funny, honest, refreshingly real account of one woman’s quest to revamp her dating habits – and learn to have fun again, instead of desperately clutching at each man as a potential mate. I liked her writing style, and appreciated her ingenuity – and energy! – in coming up with 31 dates. (To review for the Shelf.)

Theater Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
I loved Ballet Shoes, but hadn’t read this book till I found a lovely red vintage edition on Etsy. A wonderful tale of three half-orphaned children, who learn to sing, dance and act in wartime London. The details of theatrical life, the loving (but very human) siblings, the privations of wartime London – all are well rendered and come together to make a wonderful story.

Dancing Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
I liked this story too – though not quite as well as Ballet Shoes or Theater Shoes. Rachel and Hilary, sisters by adoption, have a deep and complex relationship that carries the book. Some of the other characters veer into stereotype at times, but there’s lots of dancing, some funny moments and a happy, if ambiguous, ending.

Oolong Dead, Laura Childs
It’s been a while since I picked up a Tea Shop Mystery. The writing is not brilliant, but the mysteries are intriguing, the characters comfortable and familiar, the tea shop itself a delightful spot. A fun bit of cozy mystery fluff.

Skating Shoes, Noel Streatfeild
Another lovely, hopeful story from the author of the Shoe Books. Harriet and Lalla bond through ice skating – and Harriet’s confidence begins to grow, and Lalla gradually learns she’s not the center of the universe. A sweet story (and Harriet’s brothers are wonderful supporting characters).

What are you reading lately?

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